Project Apollo: The Genstar Report and the City of Calgary, 1973-1975

By Foran, Max | Urban History Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Project Apollo: The Genstar Report and the City of Calgary, 1973-1975


Foran, Max, Urban History Review


This article focuses on a secret study commissioned by the City of Calgary chief commissioner in 1973 to ascertain the extent and threat of monopoly control by a leading land developer in the city. Kept from City Council for months after its completion, the report, code named Apollo, found that the Genstar group of companies was in a strong monopoly position. When released, the report led to a public debate, political infighting at City Hall, threats of legal action by Genstar, and a federal investigation. Though its findings on monopoly implications were never substantiated, the report did indicate the growing concentration of corporate power in the land development and construction industries in Calgary, and likely in other Canadian cities as well.

Cet article se concentre sur une etude secrete commandee par le commissaire en chef de la Ville de Calgary en 1973, qui avait pour but d'evaluer le risque d'un monopole par un de plus importants promoteurs immobiliers de la ville. Le rapport, nomme Apollo, fut tenu secret aupres du Conseil municipal et determina que le groupe d'entreprises Genstar etait un mono-pole majeur. Quand le rapport fut finalement rendu disponible, il s'en suivit une periode de debats publics, de desagrements au Conseil municipal, de menaces d'actions judiciaires par Genstar, et a une enquete judiciaire federal. Malgre que les allegations d'un monopole ne fussent jamais justifiees, le rapport demontra tout de meme la concentration accrue du pouvoir des entreprises dans le domaine du marche foncier et immobilier dans la region de Calgary et possiblement dans les autres villes canadiennes.

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Real estate activity has been a vital factor in determining Calgary physical growth patterns. The arbitrary role of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in fixing the precise location of the downtown area and in defining the city's first socio-economic residential patterns cannot be understated. During the city's settlement boom between 1909 and 1914, speculators made fortunes selling land with easy access to railway lines and roads that never materialized. Calgary's first home-grown land developers influenced urban growth in the 1950s by building and servicing subdivisions on the city's periphery in close proximity to utility trunk lines. By the 1970s the focus had changed yet again. Amid rising land prices and the promise of high profits in the housing industry, the land development business had changed from one characterized by small builder-developers to large-scale enterprises with deep pockets. When city planners in the early 1970s began favouring corridor growth rather than expansion on wide fronts, these corporations began assembling land along these corridors just beyond the corporate limits.

In terms of land development, Calgary was somewhat of a maverick compared to other Canadian cities. Wanting to avoid further fringe communities like those that had arisen just outside the city limits during the 1909-14 land boom, civic administrators adopted what they called "the unicity." This concept called for large-scale annexations well in excess of that required for short-term growth. Endorsed by the McNally Royal Commission on the Metropolitan Growth of Edmonton and Calgary (1956), the unicity became an article of faith guiding annexation policy for the next fifty years. Civic administrators also hoped that ample land within the corporate boundaries would dissuade peripheral land development. However, since developers usually controlled land under options to purchase, they could afford to acquire peripheral land and play a waiting game. Project Apollo was one city administrator's response to this perceived threat.

Like many Canadian cities, Calgary operated on a commission form of government. Appointed by City Council to whom they reported, Calgary's four commissioners held wide executive powers in managing the city's various departments. Following reorganization in 1968, the elected mayor ceased to chair the Board of Commissioners and became instead an ex officio member. …

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